The benefits of a plant-based diet for people with diabetes

Dietitian, Meagan Atcheson, explains the advantages of adopting a plant-based diet if you have diabetes.

A plant-based lifestyle is any diet that focuses on eating more foods derived from plant sources. This includes consuming more fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, legumes, nuts and seeds as well as meat substitutes, such as soya and tofu. This type of diet emphasises minimising the intake of animal products as well as limiting processed foods.   

Types of plant-based diets

There are a variety of diets that may fall under the broad term plant-based:

  1. Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Lacto refers to milk and ovo refers to eggs. This typeof vegetarian consumes eggs and dairy products but no other animal products.
  2. Flexitarian:This style of eating encourages mostly plant-basedfoods while allowing meat and other animal products in moderation.
  3. Pescatarian: Pescatarians don’t consume any meat or poultry but occasionally consume fish as part of their diet.
  4. Vegan:A vegan diet excludes:
  • Meat and poultry: Beef, lamb, pork,veal, horse, organ meat, wild meat, chicken, turkey, goose, duck, quail, etc.
  • Fish and seafood: All types of fish, anchovies, shrimp, squid, scallops, calamari, mussels, crab, lobster, etc.
  • Dairy: Milk, yoghurt, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream, etc.
  • Eggs: From chickens, quails, ostriches, fish, etc.
  • Bee products: Honey, bee pollen, etc.
  • Animal-based ingredients: Whey, casein, lactose, egg white albumen, gelatine, L-cysteine, animal-derived vitamin Dand fish-derived omega-3s.

There are numerous health benefits to following a carefully planned out whole-food plant-based diet which includes a wide variety of plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Benefits of a plant-based diet 

It’s always best to seek advice from a registered dietitian who will provide an individualised meal plan to ensure that the diet is healthy and includes a variety of plant proteins as well as other nutrients to prevent nutritional deficiencies.

  1. Lower BMI

Research shows that individuals who follow a healthy plant-based diet tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI).

  1. Weight loss

Several studies show that healthy plant-based diets are effective for weight loss. This may be due to a lower calorie intake as plant-based diets tend to be higher in fibre which leads to feelings of fullness and satiety.

  1. Improved glycaemic control in people with Type 2 diabetes

Various studies show that following a low-fat plant-based diet improves glucose control in Type 2 diabetes. Some studies show that individuals on a plant-based diet have a 78% lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

  1. Cardiovascular health

Plant-based diets may also improve heart health and reduce the risk for heart disease as they are effective in reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

  1. Other pros

These diets may also be beneficial in reducing symptoms of arthritis, reducing the risk for developing Alzheimer’s and improving kidney function in diabetic patients. However, more research is still needed in these areas.

  1. Soya foods and diabetes

Eating whole soya bean products, like tofu, tempeh, edamame and soya milk, have been show to lower cholesterol, decrease blood glucose levels and improve glucose tolerance in people with diabetes.

  1. Reducing consumptionof red meat

Particularly reducing processed meats (smoked, cured, had salt or chemical preservatives added) has been linked to a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.

What does the evidence say?

Studies strongly support the role of plant-based diets in reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Evidence demonstrates the benefits of plant-based diets in treating Type 2 diabetes and reducing key diabetes-related complications.

The evidence suggests that the type and source of carbohydrate (unrefined versus refined), fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated versus saturated and trans), and protein (plant versus animal) play a major role in the prevention and management of Type 2 diabetes.

Overall plant-based diets improve insulin resistance and improves overall health in people living with diabetes as it promotes an increases in fibre and phytonutrients and decreases the intake of saturated and trans fats.

If a predominantly plant-based lifestyle sounds daunting start with one day in the week (start by adding brown lentils to a mince dish, chickpeas to a curry or beans to a soup). Whatever you decide to do, please speak to a registered dietitian before embarking on a new diet to assist in meeting your individual needs.


Meagan Atcheson is a registered dietitian who focuses specifically in oncology. She is a plant-centric foodie who promotes a nourishing approach to health and wellness using evidence-based research and guidelines only.

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Resistance bands to manage your insulin resistance

Biokineticist, Vishaan Makan, explains the benefits of using resistance bands in your exercise routine to manage your insulin resistance.

Looking to manage your diabetes? Improve your health and well-being? Maybe even lose a few kilos before summer? Do all this, through exercise

Exercise has proven to be an effective strategy to manage your diabetes. Colberg et al (2010) explains that regular participation in exercise improves blood glucose levels, prevents and delays the onset of Type 2 diabetes and maintains numerous cardiovascular improvements.

Research shows that many exercises are appropriate for the management and prevention of diabetes which can be done at home.

Biokineticists have found that walking, running, swimming, dancing and strength training are amongst the most effective and appropriate exercises to perform. We recommend daily participation of approximately 30 minutes of exercise at a prescribed intensity from your health professional.

Benefits of consistent exercise

  • Lowered risk of cardiovascular accidents (stroke or even death)
  • Improved blood glucose control
  • Improved utilisation of insulin
  • Improved blood pressure
  • Decreased risk of obesity
  • Improved levels of cholesterol
  • Improved quality of life

Strength and resistance training

While exercise can be performed in many ways and settings; strength and resistance training will be the primary area of focus. Strength training is known to be the most challenging and daunting amongst our population, due to its intensity and assumed adverse effects. Strength training is not limited to heavy weights and clanging dumbbells in the gym. In fact, there are multiple ways to employ strength training in your lifestyle and reap all the benefits. One highly effective and popular method is through resistance bands, which are affordable, easy to use and can be adapted to target the full body.

Resistance bands are flexible, elastic rubber hoops, which are extremely versatile and useful to target multiple outcomes, namely strength, endurance, balance, cardiovascular health and even weight loss. These are only some of the crucial aspects that exercise targets to better manage your diabetes.

Using resistance bands are simple and can be used to either make basic movements easier or even harder. These adaptations allow for an individual to get stronger and progress in their exercises, thus achieving greater benefits.

Ways to include resistance bands in your exercise routines

To add to their versatility, resistance bands come in varying resistance levels, to accommodate for all strengths and abilities. The varying resistances allow for beginners to utilise them and progress while still accommodating for those who are more advance.

These resistance bands are a well-known and popular items used by all biokineticists. They are known to produce the same results as the hard iron plates in your local gym. In addition to the strength gains, they assist in improving joint stability, thus reducing our risk of injury, in addition to assisting us in improving the quality of our exercises.

Your biokineticist will use these bands in a session to complete prescribed exercises, based on set goals, function and ability; several aspects as observed in your initial assessment.

Your initial biokinetics assessment will be individualised to you and will comprise of multiple tests to assess aspects of your physical function, namely strength, BMI, endurance, cardiovascular fitness, balance, gross motor skills, flexibility and various physiological screenings (blood pressure or glucose).

The impact of exercise on diabetes

As we know, diabetes needs to be well-managed to avoid detrimental incidents, such as hypoglycaemic or hyperglycaemic episodes, which could lead to further life-threatening states. Management of diabetes is prominently done through diet, however, exercise can have just as great of an effect.

Exercise directly affects the body and its blood glucose levels, through increasing insulin sensitivity and lowers fasting blood glucose levels for a 24-hour period, following exercise.

Research has shown that moderate exercise after your meals, will decrease the spike in blood glucose levels and allow for a more neutral reading, specifically in Type 2 diabetes. Hence, we emphasise the importance and necessity for regular physical activity, to reap these benefits and help yourself in managing your diabetes.

Daily is best

Exercise in any form should be performed daily to lead a balanced lifestyle and ensure improved management of diabetes and other illnesses or injuries.

Once again, we recommend you perform any of your favourite exercises for at least 30 minutes daily, to improve your strength, endurance and your quality of life. You should consult a biokineticist to facilitate and guide your exercises to ensure proper form and intensities, thus allow for maximal improvements and benefits.

Biokineticists are registered healthcare practitioners that treat injury and disease through individualised, evidence-based exercise prescription. They are specifically educated to prescribe and supervise exercise to individuals for the management and prevention of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes. To find out more about biokinetics, or to find a biokineticist near you, visit

Article written by Vishaan Makan on behalf of Biokinetics Association of South Africa

Header image by Adobe Stock


Colberg SR, Sigal RJ, Fernhall B, Regensteiner JG, Blissmer BJ, Rubin RR, Chasan-Taber L, Albright AL, Braun B; American College of Sports Medicine; American Diabetes Association. Exercise and type 2 diabetes: the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: joint position statement. Diabetes Care. 2010 Dec;33(12):e147-67. doi: 10.2337/dc10-9990. PMID: 21115758; PMCID: PMC2992225.

Lopes JSS, Machado AF, Micheletti JK, de Almeida AC, Cavina AP, Pastre CM. Effects of training with elastic resistance versus conventional resistance on muscular strength: A systematic review and meta-analysis. SAGE Open Med. 2019 Feb 19;7:2050312119831116. doi: 10.1177/2050312119831116. Erratum in: SAGE Open Med. 2020 Sep 9;8:2050312120961220. PMID: 30815258; PMCID: PMC6383082.

Ruegsegger GN, Booth FW. Health Benefits of Exercise. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2018 Jul 2;8(7):a029694. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a029694. PMID: 28507196; PMCID: PMC6027933.

Zieff, G., Borror, A., Battaglini, C., & Stoner, L. (2019). Postprandial Exercise and Glucose Regulation for Type II Diabetics: Considerations for ACSM Guidelines.

Best snack options for hiking and picnics

Dietitian, Estée van Lingen, offer ideas for snacks when hiking or going on a picnic.

Most newly diagnosed diabetes patients think they won’t be able to do any activities like hiking or enjoying a picnic. Luckily that’s not the case. As long as you manage and plan your outings and snacks, you can still continue as normal as possible. Exercise can also be great to help manage blood glucose levels but being mindful is key in all cases.


In the case of a hike/exercise, the most important thing to remember is to start off slowly and train your body to get used to the exercise and not just jump into a 10km hike after no exercise for the last few years. You have to slowly increase the intensity and duration. By doing this you will also learn how your body works and what works best for you.

First thing to remember, is to test your glucose levels before you leave for your hike to determine if and what you should be eating beforehand.

You should also take your blood glucose monitoring kit with you to ensure blood glucose levels remain steady. If your blood glucose levels are low, it’s definitely good to consume a breakfast before you leave that includes a protein, healthy fat and fibre. For example, oats with low-fat milk and sugar-free peanut butter; a boiled egg and avocado; scrambled eggs with chickpeas; or a slice of low-GI bread and sugar-free peanut butter. The starch or fibre will help to increase blood glucose levels slightly and the protein and fats will help to stabilise it, so it does not drop too quickly.

Hydration is essential

Water is vital to pack and depending on how long you will be away, how far you will be walking and the weather, you need to bring extra water. This will keep you hydrated and also prevent you from being hungry all the time that you snack the whole way through (that’s also not ideal).

Food should only be used to nourish us to have enough energy and keep blood glucose levels stable. Hiking (or exercise) in general is not an excuse to eat more or bigger portions of food.

Snack options to pack for a hike

  • Trail mix of cranberries, nuts and seeds but be aware of portion size.
  • Lean biltong
  • Unsalted nuts and seeds
  • Sugar-free protein bar
  • Fruits (preferably fresh, and only eat 1 to 2 (max) during the whole hike)
  • Brown rice cakes
  • Take a few jelly sweeties with in case your blood glucose drops too low and you need a quick pick-up, then ONLY HAVE ONE and then follow that with balanced snack and or protein.

Snack options to pack for a picnic

  • Lean biltong
  • Unsalted nuts and seeds
  • Sugar-free protein bar
  • Boiled eggs
  • Low-GI sandwiches with protein filling/sugar-free peanut butter
  • Low-GI, sugar-free muffins
  • Vegetable sticks with hummus or low-fat cottage cheese
  • Low-fat plain/unsweetened yoghurt
  • Fresh fruits
  • Brown rice cakes with avocado, hummus or low-fat cottage cheese

Things to remember

Please take note of the following when planning and packing snacks:

  1. Drink lots of water throughout the hike, picnic or exercise.
  2. Make sure the snack is low in sugar and carbohydrates (15g carbs = 1 starch portion). Only consume 1 starch or fruit portion at a time (in 2 hours space).
  3. Do not continuously eat throughout. Try to eat a good breakfast before (especially before a picnic so you don’t overeat). Have a snack about 2 hours later and then another 2-3 hours later, or as you feel blood glucose levels might be dropping. Only eat when hungry or low blood glucose and not just because the food is there.
  4. Make sure the snack contains protein (biltong, chicken, low-fat cottage cheese, eggs, nuts), fibre (low-GI starches, fruit and vegetables) and/or healthy fats (sugar-free nut butter, avocado, olives, nuts and seeds) to help regulate blood glucose.
  5. Monitor portion sizes. Even if you eat healthy snacks but the portions are too big, it can still affect your blood glucose levels, and an increased calorie consumption can lead to weight gain or prevent weight loss.
  6. Avoid foods too high in fats especially saturated fats and trans fats (mainly found in processed foods).
  7. Avoid salty snacks as this can dehydrate you and increase your blood pressure.

Now you can use these guidelines to plan your next hike or picnic and adjust it to meet your individual requirements as each person is different and reacts differently to foods. Do try to play around with ideas when you are at home or taking shorter walks to see which snacks works best for you.

If you are still not certain or need more assistance with your individual dietary needs, book an appointment with your nearest dietitian.


Estée van Lingen is a registered dietitian and has been in private practice since 2014. She is registered with the HPCSA as well as ADSA and served on the ADSA Gauteng South Committee for 2020 – 2022.

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How to become an expert meal planner

Lynette Lacock shares the basics of becoming an expert meal planner.

You have just found out you or a family member has diabetes. There are so many thoughts going through your mind about medication and checking blood glucose levels that you almost forgot you were also told to follow a diabetic diet. What is a diabetic diet anyway? Do you need to buy special food? What will the rest of the family eat? How am I going to find the time to plan a special diet?

You can stop worrying because it’s easier than it sounds. A diabetic diet is simply eating healthy foods in moderation and eating three meals a day at more or less the same time every day. My rule of thumb when determining if a food is healthy is asking: how close is this food to its natural state? For example, whole oats as opposed to a processed cereal with oat flour, or a skinless chicken breast as opposed to chicken nuggets mixed with breading and fillers. You get the picture.

So, you don’t need to purchase special foods, just food in its more natural state and in the correct portion size. The whole family will benefit from eating healthier so there is no need to make separate meals.

Honestly speaking, you’ll have to put in some extra effort to plan your meals but after a couple weeks it will become routine. The trick is to be more organised when you make your shopping list then stick to it. Before we talk about meal planning, we first have to go back to the basics.

Back to basics

Most will remember learning about the five basic food groups in school and will only need a little refresher. It’s a good idea to have a list of your family’s preferences for each food group when planning your meals for the week. You don’t want to make tasty meals with ingredients that no one will eat.

Food group Types of foods
Grains Wholegrains: Brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur wheat, oatmeal, popcorn, wholegrain barley, wholegrain cornmeal, whole rye, whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat crackers, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat cereal flakes, whole-wheat tortillas, wild rice.

Other products: Mostly made from refined grains, however, some may be made from wholegrains, such as cornbread, corn tortillas, couscous, crackers, flour tortillas, pasta, pitas, pretzels, ready-to-eat cereals.

Vegetables Carrots, broccoli, kale, spinach, acorn squash, carrots, pumpkin, red peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, artichokes, asparagus, avocado, bean sprouts, beets, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, green and red peppers, mushrooms, onions, snow peas, string beans, tomatoes, vegetable juices, zucchini.

Starchy vegetables: corn, green peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut.

Fruit Apples, applesauce, apricots, bananas, berries, figs, unsweetened fruit juices, grapefruit, grapes, kiwi fruit, mangoes, melons, nectarines, oranges, papayas, peaches, pears, plums, pineapple, raisins, prunes, starfruit, tangerines.
Protein Meats: Lean cuts of beef, veal, pork, ham, minced beef and lamb; reduced-fat deli meats.

Poultry: Skinless chicken and turkey, ground chicken and turkey.

Fish: Snoek, salmon, hake, yellowtail, clams, crab, lobster, mussels, octopus, oysters, scallops, calamari, tuna fish.

Beans: Cooked beans, refried beans, tofu.

Nuts and seeds: Peanut butter; sunflower seeds, almonds, and hazelnuts.

Eggs: Chicken eggs, duck eggs.

Dairy Low-fat milk, yoghurt, cheeses: cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, parmesan, string cheese, cottage cheese. Frozen yoghurt and soya milks.

Putting it all together

Now that you’re familiar with the different food groups we can put it all together to make your diabetic meal. There are different ways to keep track of your food intake. You can count carbohydrates, or you can use the plate method.

The plate method

This makes it easy to get used to looking at a plate of food and knowing if it’s the right foods in the right amounts for you. Your plate should be half non-starchy vegetables, quarter protein and a quarter carbohydrates as in the figure below.


With some practice, you’ll be able to quickly measure the food on your plate at a glance. See the explanation below to get an idea of how large or small your portions should be. This method is helpful when you want to make sure you’re eating the right portion size. It’s also a good idea to get a kitchen scale and measure the portions until you get used to the sizes.

  1. 84g of meat, fish, or poultry – Palm of hand (no fingers)
  2. 28g of meat or cheese – Thumb (tip to base)
  3. 250ml or 1 medium fruit – Fist
  4. 28-56g of nuts or pretzels – Cupped hand
  5. 15ml – Thumb tip (tip to 1st joint)
  6. 5ml – Fingertip (tip to 1st joint)

Staying organised is the key to successful meal planning

It’s best to start planning meals weekly so it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Make a list of favourite family foods from each group.  Now that you have an idea of portion sizes, you can measure how much various proteins you’ll need for the week.

Then it’s a matter of buying fresh fruits, vegetables and carbohydrates. Be careful not to have starchy vegetables with every meal since they are high in carbohydrates and a quarter of your plate will already contain your carbohydrate intake. Substitute this with a whole-wheat rolls or bread sometimes.

Try to introduce these new changes over a couple weeks, especially with children.

Prep and freezing

Preparing some things ahead of time can help keep you and your meals more organised. The freezer will soon be your best friend because it will allow you to get a jump start on the week by cooking ahead of time. Once you make something to freeze, remember add the number of portions per bag to the label.

  • Dice, spice and cook chicken fillets and freeze (or leave whole).
  • Spice and fry ground mince beef, chicken or turkey and freeze.
  • Cook brown rice and store in refrigerator or freezer.
  • Buy or make whole-wheat bread/rolls and freeze.
  • Roast vegetables, refrigerate and use for meals over a couple days.
  • Peel and chop carrots and freeze cooked or uncooked.
  • Cook and freeze green beans or any other vegetable (Note: potatoes don’t freeze well unless cooked first due to their high water content).

Try new recipes

Once you’ve tackled basic meal planning, it’s time to start researching new diabetic recipes. You can find so many sites online with great recipes for healthy meals that also take into account the portion sizes required.

Give yourself time to get used to this new way of eating. It’s not easy but you can do it. In the long-run, it will all be worth it because you and your family will be eating a healthier diet.


Sr Lynette Lacock


Sr Lynette Lacock received her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and Biofeedback Certification in Neurofeedback in the US. She has over 30 years’ experience in healthcare which has enabled her to work in the US, UK and South Africa. Initially specialising in Cardiothoracic and Neurological ICU, she now works as an Occupational Health Sister. She is passionate about teaching people how to obtain optimum health while living with chronic conditions.

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